Monday, July 13, 2015

A palette cleanser

Hey guys, been away for awhile. I'll be coming back in a big bad way when the film festival starts in Auckland next week. In the meantime here's a couple of short reviews of new releases I've seen recently.

Jurassic World
Not a patch on the original, but a decent monster movie all the same. The sexual politics alone seat it firmly back in another era, but the movie as whole feels like a classic Fifties monster movie with added CGI. Far funnier than I thought, and Bryce Dallas Howard looked great running in heels.

Me, Earl and the Dying Girl
This movie has been getting a lot of praise. I don't get it. The movie's idea of being clever seems to be taking every vaguely meta idea from every Sundance hit from the last decade and throwing them in a blender. The cast are fine, and a few scenes are effective, but this movie was too precious for its own good. The title really highlights the other problem I had with this movie - the movie reduces all its characters to types. The 'dying girl' is just that - she's an idea, not a character, one designed to make the self-involved 'Me' becomes less of a self-pitying tool. Meanwhile, Earl is just a caricature of the 'wise black friend'. Disappointing and overrated.

To pad this out, here's a few book recommendations.

Miracle Man
Alan Moore's classic series has been out of print for decades, and has finally been released in 3 nice volumes complete with special features. Highly influential and bursting with philosophical concepts and ideas about the nature of power, it is worth a look.

Death of a Citizen
The first entry in the novel series by Donald Hamilton, this short, brutal thriller introduces retired government hatchet man Matt Helm. Drawn back into his old ways by an old colleague, the book works as both a thriller and a man's descent into darkness. Surprisingly violent, the book does not obey all the conventions you would expect, as Helm's willingness to disregard laws, orders and morality makes him into more of a monster than the villains. While other anti-heroes go on about their dark sides (Batman, Dredd, Bond and Reacher), Helm is the real deal, and Hamilton does not try to cast his actions as heroic.

Red Harvest
A classic thriller that has served as the basis for Yojimbo and its remake Fistful of Dollars, Red Harvest is one of the best books from hard boiled writer Dashiell Hammett. The premise is great: a stranger comes to a town torn apart by warring gangs, and then uses their various weaknesses, secrets and grievances to bring them down from within. But a great premise alone does not a great book make - the characters are all vividly drawn, the pace never lets up and Hammett's prose is so economical and punchy that it transcends its 20s milieu to still feel fresh.

Strip Tease
Fun, fun, fun. Carl Hiassen's hilarious account of a debauched congressman's entanglements with an exotic dancer is so good, I'm still kicking myself that I have never read him before. Whip smart, funny and occasionally moving, Strip Tease is well worth a look.

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